chestnut flour – who knew

over the past couple of years i have investigated (and tried my fair share of) gluten-free baking recipes.  it is not out of necessity but rather curiosity, as gluten-free treats tend to have a lackluster reputation.  the good news is that gluten-free baking has come a long way, and the most creative bakers out there are getting inventive with alternative baking ingredients so that the gluten-free brownie you see in the bakery’s case doesn’t taste like cardboard.

my coworker george recommended i check out the book alternative baker, as his wife swears by its recipes.  i quickly placed my order on amazon and once in my eager hands, i started at the beginning to read all about the author’s outlook on alternative ingredient baking and how to use the book.  alanna taylor-tobin presents her recipes in a welcoming manner and includes charming backstories to each which, to no surprise, i just love reading.  i have put my own baking skills to the test with near perfect success on several recipes, and although i’d like to take the credit, i must give it to alanna.  she has meticulously tested different ingredients in different amounts over and over again to ensure that the recipes in this book will make anyone come across like a seasoned baker.  and besides the fact that they taste incredible, my treats have always come out looking exactly like her pictures.  exactly.  i mean it!  there might be nothing more satisfying, at least today.  🙂

in a recent baking mood, i came across a recipe for loaded chocolate chip cookies that required chestnut flour.  i looked high and low at the local grocer for chestnut flour with no luck and then resorted to calling the specialty food stores in town.  still, no chestnut flour to be found anywhere in the greater atlanta area.  not ready to give up, i went back to the recipe, which actually referenced two suggested brands of chestnut flour.  next thing i knew, i was in contact with sandy bole from ladd hill orchards in sherwood, oregon who so kindly helped me order one pound of chestnut flour.

with the primary ingredient in hand (thank you again, sandy), phillip and i got to work toasting pecans and chopping chocolate and sifting flour.  the dough came together nicely, don’t you think?

nothing better than cookie dough.

we patiently waited 15-18 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking.  the smells from the oven were cozy and warm as the cookies baked to perfection.  once slightly cooled, we took a gooey bike, taking in the rich chocolate, tart cherries, crunchy pecans, and nutty chestnut flour.  here is one of the best parts about these cookies (and most everything in this cookbook), unless you tell someone they are gluten-free, they should have no idea because the quality, flavors, and combination of ingredients is so thoughtful and delicious they have no reason to believe otherwise.  the bonus?  you learn about new options, and if you are not learning, you are not growing.  🙂

so, here is what you need to take away from this post:

  1. gluten-free baking is not scary or difficult.  with the right ingredients, you’ll be a booming success.
  2. this cookbook is incredible.  please.  go order it.  now.
  3. for all your chestnut product needs, give ladd hill orchards a ring.  they couldn’t be kinder.  tell  them alanna taylor-tobin and kelsey davis sent you.

next up from the cookbook?  i’ll try my hand at some rich chestnut brownies and am betting they’ll be a hit at book club this month.

cranberry bliss bars

it was an all-starbucks weekend when my mom was in town to help dog-sit my dog nephew rocco and house-sit for my brother while he, kari, and bode were out of town.  things started off with a couple of post-workout pumpkin spice lattes on saturday and continued into that evening when we tried out this copy-cat recipe to make our very own cranberry bliss bars.  they are mom’s favorites during the holiday season, and since they aren’t out just yet for purchase at your local starbucks cafe, we decided we would make our own!

can’t you just hear the Christmas tunes on your radio now?

my mom, the expert on how a cranberry bliss bar should taste, tried them for breakfast this morning and said they were divine.  i bit into a forkful myself and declared the same, even though i’ve never actually had one from a starbucks store!  the chocolate chip chunks combined with the cream cheese frosting and chopped craisins make for a delicious, rich bite that pairs perfectly with some fresh fruit and a steaming cup of coffee.  our only tweaks to the recipe?  more craisins in the batter and some orange zest in the frosting.  oh yes, that is exactly how i will make them next time, and i’m sure that will not be long from now.  🙂  the seasons are changing, and we are ready for all the holiday-themed treats we can get!

breakfast of champions.

rice flour and tapioca flour and xantham gum, oh my!

many of you know how much i love to bake, and some of you have even been lucky enough to enjoy some of my treats.  now, since i no longer have an office to go into, i had to figure out what to do with all my baked goods, because keeping a whole cake or tray of cookies in the condo with just phillip and me is out of the question.  we’d be too tempted to eat it all ourselves!  so, i started baking things phillip could take to his coworkers.  he’s relatively new at his job as well, and there’s almost no better way to make friends in a new place than coming in with something tasty to share with everyone.

the first recipe i sent to the office with him were those classic and delicious peanut butter, sugar-rolled cookies with a hershey’s kiss on top.  they are almost always a crowd-pleaser!  but when phillip returned at the end of the day with nearly half the cookies still in the tin, i was a wreck!  “phillip, what happened?  did people not like them?  we tried them last night and they were perfect!”  after taking a moment to catch my breath, phillip responded, “well, it turns out that a lot of people in the office are gluten-free and couldn’t eat them.  but those who did have one loved them!”  such a great cheerleader.  🙂

“well, i guess i need to find some gluten-free recipes, then!”  so, discouraged not and determined much, i was on the hunt, and since i know nothing about gluten-free baking, i took my search to social media and relied on my trusty facebook friends to lend a hand.  luckily, within what seemed like just minutes, several folks responded with suggestions – what great people!  after perusing the suggestions, we finally decided that this gluten-free chocolate chip recipe would be the way to go.  it is a classic and cookies are easy to share, so it seemed like it had potential to be a winner.

nothing about the recipe itself scared me away; however, i had to be sure we had the right gluten-free ingredients on hand, so off to whole foods i went!  i made a beeline to the baking aisle and was astounded at the variety and number of alternative baking ingredients out there.  who knew such a world existed!  after checking the shelves, checking my shopping list, and checking my shopping cart again, i was ready to go.

back at the condo with the necessary supplies flung around the kitchen, it was time to get to work.  step by step everything came together nicely, and phillip can confirm that the batter itself tasted as delicious as any one of your favorite gluten-full chocolate chip cookie recipe batters.  that’s got to be a good sign!

but, the real test would be when the cookies were baked, cooled, and ready to eat.  as stated in the recipe, i tried baking them for 14 minutes per sheet, rotating halfway through, but those batches were a little more golden than we prefer, likely due to our oven running a little hot.

so, we bumped it down to 12 minutes total and ended up with a pretty delicious result.  i mean, we just had to taste test a couple of cookies each, washing them down with an ice-cold glass of milk.

with new-found gluten-free confidence, we packaged the cookies up, wrote up a little note and ingredient list, and phillip took them to the office the next day.  i almost couldn’t concentrate on my own work, i was so eager to hear if they were liked!  i got a text from phillip in the afternoon that people were loving the cookies and were appreciative that we took the time and money to go out of our way and make a gluten-free recipe.  ah!  success is ours!

now, we could have stopped there, content with the joy our cookies brought phillip’s co-workers.  however, the baker in me was too intrigued and had to keep going.  one of my own colleagues recommended to me a book called alternative baker, and i have been conquering it like there is no tomorrow!  from the corn meal blueberry muffins to the no-bake oat bars, everything we have made so far has been a hit and there is only more to explore and create.  what more could a baker ask for, right?  right!  if you’re someone out there who has a sweet tooth like us but has some dietary restrictions, i highly recommend giving this particular recipe and this book a try.  the baking world is full of so many creative options, and who knows, maybe you’ll surprise yourself with a new favorite.  🙂  enjoy!

vegan week day 3 – i dreamt about cheeseburgers

yes, cheeseburgers were dancing around in my dreams, bumping into me on the sidewalk, creeping over my dinner plate, brokenhearted that i’d abandoned them.  such a horror that i woke up drenched in a nervous sweat!  okay, that’s not entirely true.  i didn’t dream about cheeseburgers last night; i actually had visions of tofu slices!  okay, that’s a lie also.  i honestly don’t remember last night’s dreams.  all i remember is i slept very well and awoke refreshed and ready for the day.  perhaps that’s because i decided to forgo my typical 4:30 a.m. workout.  yes, that was definitely a good choice.

anyway!  day three came and went like any typical wednesday did.  i had some cherries for my morning snack and then craisins on a log in the early afternoon.  interesting how some of my vegan selections seem to remind me of my childhood…

for lunch i had reheated veggie taco bowl, and it definitely hit the spot.  also, i think i made all my coworkers jelly (that’s short for jealous, just fyi) because it smelled so good.

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the danger struck, though, when my coworker andrew brought back a whole parcel of cookies for the office.  everyone was commenting, “mm, how tasty!”  “ah, these are great!”  i had to look away as everyone delicately unwrapped them and took delicious bite after delicious bite without me.  i wouldn’t say my will to resist was crumbling, but those treats definitely reminded me how much i am looking forward to saturday when i can indulge in all my favorite eats once again.

as for dinner this evening, we didn’t get too formal.  phillip had his company’s first kickball game of the summer (woohoo!) and i kind of lounged around watching law & order: svu once i got home.  after finally peeling myself off the sofa (i’d already seen that particular episode countless times), i got to baking.  i do enjoy cooking, but i’d say baking is much more of a passion for me.  another friendly recommendation, i whipped up a batch of vegan lemon poppy seed scones from the lovely i love vegan pair of brittany and william.  i’ve actually never made scones, so i wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the recipe seemed straightforward and i was itching for something to satisfy my sweeter baked good tooth.

after letting the scones cool and generously drizzling them in glaze, i could hardly wait until phillip got home so we could try some.  don’t they look delectable?

well, if looks could kill, then how these scones tasted would send you to heaven and back.  i was incredibly happy with the biscuit-like texture, the light fluffiness, and the bright lemon flavor.  as phillip and i sat munching them at the dining room table, i couldn’t help but be impressed by myself (and the recipe).  i mean, these scones are slap-your-mama good.  they’re almost so good that i might eat a second scone right now and then another in the morning for breakfast.  no judging!  😉

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